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Steel door lock

What’s Behind the Russian Steel Door Culture?

We have a saying – My house is my fortress. And fortresses should be equipped with safe doors.

Speaking seriously, although Moscow is indeed quite a safe city, apartment robberies do happen. That is why almost all apartments have fortified metal doors and sophisticated locks. People, who live on the first floor, usually also have metal bars on windows.

How Do Thieves Know When to Rob

Magnifying glass

Thieves have their methods to collect data

Thieves know that the majority of people in apartment buildings will be away to their “dachas” (country houses) during holiday seasons and weekends.  A thief can see who is absent by looking at the mailboxes. If a mailbox is packed with bills and other papers – most likely a person is away. People typically go to the post office prior to a long trip somewhere and ask to hold their correspondence at the post office or ask neighbors or friends to pick up mail (and water houseplants).

Thieves are quite resourceful – they can also find out landline numbers and make phone calls to make sure nobody is in the apartment. If they suspect that apartment is a good target, they also watch people to understand their daily schedule. A week is usually enough to get a picture. Finally, they always ring the doorbell before starting any actions.

What Are the Valuables Stored at Home

money hiding places

Money hiding places

In addition to the usual possessions, such as computers, electronics, fur coats and art objects, Russians do store cash and jewelry at home. And by cash I do not mean the equivalent of $100. Many people do not trust banks and keep all their savings at home in cash. That would sound weird to most Western people and especially to Americans, but Russians have a good reason not to trust banks. There were many instances when banks collapsed or there when there was a sudden money reform and people lost all their savings. Now the bank system is much more stable and there are state guarantees for the sums up to $20K, but people still have trust issues.

Jewelry box

Typical jewelry box, owned by any Russian girl or woman

People try to hide cash though. But professional thieves know all the typical hiding places. They make sure to check the pantry for jars with flour and grains, look inside the freezer and inside the toilet tank, between bed linen in a closet, shake up books in the library and look under table covers and matrasses.

Having a safe box at home or renting one in a bank is also very rare. All Russian women do love jewelry and usually keep their impressive collection in a special box on a bedroom table. That is an easy target.

How Do Thieves Operate

Opening the steel door

Opening the steel door

Thieves, who specialize on apartment robberies, know how to open almost any lock or how to drill the lock out without making much noise. However opening a steel door takes much more time and is noisy, so thieves try to open steel doors only if they are sure that’s worth it.

People, who live on the top floor, also are at risk since a thief can enter apartment from the roof, especially if apartment has an open balcony. Before, a lot of windows were constructed so that they had “fortochka” – a small window, which people often left open when going away. There were thieves, specializing on getting inside the apartment through these windows – usually they used kids to climb  in the window, get inside and then open the door. Now that type of robbery is almost obsolete since modern windows do not have “fortochka”

There is also a type of thieves, called “vorovka na doverie” (thieves, operating on trust). These thieves ring the bell, when inhabitants actually are in-house and talk them into giving their money for some cause or steal something while a senior apartment owner goes in the kitchen to bring them a glass of water.

What Could Be Done to Protect Your Property

Best way to protect your apartment is a combination of a steel door and a security system.

Price range for steel doors in Moscow is within $250-$5000. The cheapest option will include a thin steel door with average, but still 2-3-prong lock. The most expensive option will provide you with a lock good enough for a Swiss bank, an insulated steel door, covered with an expensive wood panel and will even have some metal or glass decorations.

I actually have two doors in my apartment, the first one is a thin metal door with a good 3-prong lock and the second one is the original wooden door. That combination provides both security and noise insulation. I do not mind opening several locks every time I get inside my home.

Police security in Moscow

Police security in Moscow

I also have a security system, provided by the city police, which I find very efficient. They install equipment that is sensitive to door or window opening and movements inside the apartment. Usually you turn the alarm system on or off, using a key fob, however I still have the old system, which requires me to make a phone call each time I need to switch the alarm on or off. I tell my personal code number and the operator tells me password for the day, which is always one of the Russian cities. She also tells me her operator number. If the alarm goes off – police is at my door within 3-5 minutes. Even if a thief managed to open a door within that time, he will not be able to steal much and will be caught. There are usually two policemen, carrying Kalashnikov machine guns and wearing bulletproof vests. How do I know that? From several times of forgetting to switch off the alarm…

By the way, that security service is really inexpensive – it costs only $15-20/month. And since you can see that the security system is installed from outside (a red light near the door) – chances are a thief will not even attempt to break the door.

There is also a video surveillance system at the entrance of most apartment buildings and inside the lobby. Most buildings do not have concierges, so video surveillance prevents crimes or helps to catch a criminal afterwards.

Finally, all apartment building entrances are equipped with either a code lock or a key fob lock. If you do not know the code or do not have a key fob to open the door, you call the apartment and your host buzzes you in.

What Does the Statistics Say?

I bet that after reading all that, you are scared about even setting your foot in the Moscow city. So, how bad is the apartment robbery situation from a stats point?  We have about 6000-9000 incidents of apartment robberies/year. The total number of apartments in Moscow is 3 mln apartments, which makes a very small probability of your apartment getting robbed. If you compare those statistics with statistics for the major US metro areas – you will see that Moscow is a very safe city indeed.  Maybe the reason behind that is the presence of those steel doors? Apartment robberies percentage goes down every year. So the city gets safer each day.

And how do you keep your home safe wherever you live? I would love to hear about that!

Leave a Reply

  • Matt Campbell - 4 years ago

    My apartment here in Seattle has:
    -Key fob entry to main lobby
    -24/7 staffed desk
    -Key fob elevator and stairway access, elevator will only go to your programmed floor
    -17 stories up, steel door that automatically locks as well as a deadbolt
    -Accessing the balcony from the outside would require going 7 stories up to the roof deck, then scaling 10 stories (without fire escapes) facing a busy courtyard and another building
    -Security cameras in the lobby, elevator, and all public hallways

    I was the guy that often left my doors unlocked or my garage wide open in the suburbs, so I find it all a little ridiculous. I’m also required to maintain at least $100,000 of insurance coverage, and I own far less in material goods than that, so I could replace anything that was stolen.

  • Tanya Golubeva - 4 years ago

    Hi Matt! Wow! Your apartment is a Real fortress! :)

  • Lars Bekken - 2 years ago

    :-D Thanks for solving a mystery. I stayed with a host family in St. Petersburg and their flat had exactly the kind of entrance you describe. A huge door! Heavy steel plates and a lock unlike anything I’ve ever seen in any apartment.

    • Plateshutoverlock 08 - 2 years ago

      Awesome! Did you need a key to get out as well as to get in.

      I plan on doing my new house uo this way, and it will be built in a very
      simaler manner to a modern pre-cast concrete prison cell, including narrow windows, steel prison like interior and exterior doors (though covered with simulated wood made of metal), which are auto locking and require keys to open on both sides. The whole structure will be entirely re-enforced concrete. It wont be that big, a few rooms, but it will
      be practicaly fireproof, with everything, even the television behind security glass and built to Supermax standards. I asked my boyfriend to have this house built for us, and he holds the keys at my request, and he is getting it ready to be built.

  • plateshutoverlock - 2 years ago

    I hope the key hole is on the inside too so my boyfriend has me locked up safe and sound when he is away